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TECH TALK: Good Books: Problem Solving

January 12th, 2004 · 1 Comment

I recently attended a marriage. I dread attending wedding receptions because I invariably end up meeting people and having conversations with them without figuring out who they are. So, much of the conversation ends up trying to decipher clues as to their identify. The problem is compounded when they ask Remember me and you reply Oh Yes, Of course I do and they go on to ask So, who am I?

I went through a similar experience in a reception I attended recently. I talked with a travel agency owner thinking him to be a stock broker friend. Having realised my bloomer before the other person did, I started thinking of what could be done differently so I didnt have to go through this again. Imagine if everyone were given name tags just like the way it happens when we go to conferences and trade shows. While I agree that marriages are more informal settings, one of the purposes of these elaborate functions (especially in India) is to also foster meetings among friends and family in an otherwise busy life. So, why not make things easier by giving name tags at the time of walking in to the reception venue. In most cases, the set of people coming is known well in advance, so the tags could be kept ready in advance. Marriage meetings would suddenly be fun, less of a mental strain and embarrassment-free!

So, when I came across a book entitled Why Not: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, I had to read it. After all, Nalebuff was the author of two earlier books I had read Co-opetition and Thinking Strategically.

Lateral thinking is not something which comes naturally to most of us. And yet, thinking and problem-solving is one of the most common and important tasks that we all do. Most of the time, we follow a structured process of ideation. We are called upon to make decisions all the time, so it isnt easy to deviate too much from the norm and do lateral thinking every time!

Yet, there are times when we will want to think differently. This is how inventions and innovations are born. If we were all satisfied with the way things are, there would be little progress. It is the angst, the discomfort, the desire for there to be a better approach that drives the innovator in us to do things to change status quo.

In the formal education that we go through, there is time spent on anything outside the book. Yet, in the exams that we undertake, we are expected to be ingenious in how we solve the problem. We are warned that in exam papers like JEE (for IITs) or CAT (for IIMs) or GRE/GMAT, many problems have a simple, shorter way to the solution. We are expected to find this without any structured training in thinking.

So, many of us find outlets in brain teasers and puzzles to stimulate thinking. When we are young, these mathematical and logic games become a challenge to the mind. As we grow older, much of this thinking and puzzling gives way to conformity and following the path laid down by others. Only a few among us tread away from the beaten path. It is these unplanned, impromptu exits from the crowded highways of life that brings about innovation. Asking not Why but Why Not is the first step in the process of discovery.

Tomorrow: Why Not


TECH TALK Good Books+T

Tags: Tech Talk

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